CORTLAND — It's after 10 p.m. I'm sitting in my car on Madison Street, just idling, feeling a tug from the past.
The building across from me is dark, aside from the ever-present lanterns on either side of the front door and a ghostly light coming from the hallway inside.
There's something comforting about seeing your old elementary school. There is for me, anyway. It's as if my childhood memories are safely archived inside, waiting for me to walk in some day and rediscover them. And there's this strangely quixotic feeling that all is right, because the next generation of students is being ushered through their childhood within these walls.
The school is named after Alton B. Parker, a prominent and successful Cortland native if you overlook the fact that he got creamed in the 1904 presidential election. The building looks old and dignified, with brick walls and large windows. It has character. It has class. It looks indestructible, even if I know now that it isn't.
Even sitting here on a dark night, memories radiate from those brick walls.
There were school concerts and plays, which were quite nerve-racking for a kid, and something called "Gym Day," the purpose of which always escaped me. Many of us walked home for lunch every day. Report cards were actual cards — handwritten affairs that folded out into three parts — not the electronic stuff of today (Note to Mrs. Wright, wherever you are: you were spot on when you called me an "individualist" on my first-grade report card).
We used to play kickball on the blacktop outside with a hard rubber ball. It was an automatic out to kick it over the left-field fence. Only the best athletes could kick it on the gym roof, and I wasn't one of them. I used to daydream about kicking a ball on the gym roof.
I served on the safety patrol in sixth grade, which was quite the power trip. I was in charge of raising the flag in the morning for a time, though I can't remember why I was chosen or if I had help.
There are less desirable memories, too — the playground bullies, having to wear makeup for the school play, the SRA box.
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The SRA box contained color-coded reading exercises that got more challenging as you progressed through the box. I seemed to be forever bogged down in the browns and yellows in the front while other kids were advancing through the cool colors in the back. It made me feel stupid.
I went on to become a writer. So screw you, SRA box.
I've driven past Parker School a few hundred times and felt that fleeting rush of old memories, but it feels different now as I sit here in my car. They're going to close the place at the end of the school year.
It's on the chopping block as part of the tough decisions school districts everywhere are making because of financial issues, declining enrollment, or whatever. It's not the first school to close and it won't be the last.
The same thing happened some years ago in Glens Falls when Sanford Street was shuttered. I followed the events at the time but didn't think too much about it. It wasn't my school.
This is my school. It feels like something being yanked away. It feels like my childhood memories being entombed there forever when the doors close in June. It feels like future generations being denied the chance to grow up in their neighborhood school.
Also, I am annoyed that Parker will be survived by Smith School, another elementary school a few blocks away. That place has all the character of a 1950s office building.
I don't know if there's a ceremony when a school closes, but I wouldn't want to be there. I'll just avoid that end of Madison Street when I'm home. No need to stir up these irrational thoughts any more.
But if anybody finds a pile of discarded SRA boxes out back after they've cleared out, sign me up for the bonfire.